Dance has during this past week enjoyed some considerable exposure. In our local paper,which one reads with a sense of peril , we are informed of the arrival of ‘Cuban’ ballet. Prior to this revelation of revolutionary movement there was the arrival of ‘HipHop’ to rival all other HipHop schools. Culture comes at last to Rand********. The excitement is at fever pitch. This is surely what everyone has been waiting for. A former CEO of a prestigious Dance Company(why isn’t he anymore?) is at the helm of this project. When one reads the ‘blurb’ concerning this proposed project which is going to benefit so many many students…in the townships, in the schools,in the rural areas it almost echoes word for word the vision Miss Dulcie Howes had all those many many years ago when we (and many others before us)as 1st year students were sent into areas such Guguletu to bring ‘ballet’ to the little people of the community. This was late sixties early seventies. Somewhere somehow in times good or bad there have been projects such as these running under auspicious and inspired teachers who ultimately became disillusioned and stressed teachers. When I arrived in Rand******* I too had this wonderful vision for the marginalised of our country’s peoples. I taught mainly in all the surrounding townships often risking life and limb as a white person to go in where others feared to tread. I had many good experiences and I had many more really scary ones. I learned how to understand the ‘coloured’ persons way of thinking. Theirs was a world that defied literary explanation. One had to live their reality and I did in every sense of the word. I struggled to make a living and was supported by my mother for the best part of ten years while working ceaselessly to bring ‘light’, ‘movement’, ‘drama’ to these special people. I did not succeed. I might have touched some lives….but I did not succeed.
I am now asked ‘what is Cuban Ballet’ and low and behold I find myself back where it all started when I struggled so so hard to establish a school teaching Cecchetti when everyone here was doing RAD. Unless one moves in dance circles one will never understand the rivalry, the bitterness and the vitriolic comment that can exude from teachers and dancers when judging a method of dance training they either know nothing about or are threatened by. And I was judged….mercilessly. I had to fight to uphold the teaching methods of Maestro Enrico Cecchetti in this corner of the world. In the meanwhile I was studying all methods of Ballet training, including RAD. The best teachers in the country were my source of knowledge. It is only now as I approach the final curtain that I realise how absolutely sick and ridiculous it was to try and imagine I could as a single teacher make a difference. But in 1969 when I independently started I had a blind belief that I could and would instill the love for dance in every young persons life I touched. I was very naive. When I look back on how hard I tried with every parent and child I want to run into a wall of sorts at the embarrassment and yes, the humiliation of it. I forgot a very important key factor and it was this. In a community such as the one in which I made may home I failed to understand the importance of social interaction. I failed to grasp how important group opinion is of one…..if a social ‘clique’ approved you got a group of little girls in no time…..offend one and you offend all. Alienation of a student is never intentional…every teacher will and is honour bound to try and make a success of the student/teacher relationship. So if one mama finds what you said in class unsatisfactory….five other mamas felt the same. It would be OK if it stopped there but now grandparents and aunts and uncles got involved for the discussion of children’s achievements and marks and successes is always paramount at family gatherings. The same community that hailed me as the greatest thing since Sliced bread was the very same community that condemned my character, teaching and family years later. In the end it took four clever mothers two months to dwindle my school to almost nothing through their illiterate comment about dancing and my personal life in They are still in Rand******* today……doyennes in their secure niches. They have no guilt or shame for what their gossip ultimately achieved. I fought back with ever fibre of my being but I could never regain the unconditional popularity I previously experienced. I came back on broken wings. In my memory these unfortunate episodes are burned onto my soul. For months and years I will never recall the episode and then wham !! in a dream it resurfaces or the sun will shine just so on a wintery afternoon and a student will say something that echoes the memory. It hurts….even after all the years it really hurts and depresses.
So…now it is Cuban Ballet…..what defines a good method of teaching? Is it the structured syllabi of preset movement by which to train the young aspirant dancer. Is is that it is grounded in Russian principle for arms and head? Or that it is the controlled English way or wait …….what about the French school of movement influenced by the Italian maestros of the past.? And let us not forget the American Ballet. South Africans will do almost anything to attach to their training achievements international accreditation. I believe this insatiable desire for ‘international’ stems from the days of our past history of Imperialism. It never really died. It is still alive and well and manifests itself in many facets of our society.
In my view teaching the art of Dance movement does not depend upon the structured syllabi that a teacher has to adhere to. Success is what is given to a student by a competent and caring teacher. Love for movement and expression through that structured syllabi is paramount and method is secondary. Learning RAD does not make one a better dancer than the girl learning Cechetti or Vaganova or Espinosa. Quality of teaching from the individual teacher is what renders the method valuable. The rules enforced by a structured syllabus can kill the creative spirit. Pointless rules,embroideries of movement and theories over simple movements anchors the creative spirit to the earth…the teacher and pupil slowly die together. It is the most painful thing to endure.
I am almost glad that I am near the end of my career as a teacher of Dance. Each day of my life I have thanked my Creator for the gift of Dance movement, the value of words in Drama and above all my first passion…the colours in Art…..I am very grateful to the depth of my being BUT I would NOT choose to walk this way again. It is has been a hard and isolated life. I have had to take criticism and condemnation as a teacher and woman with as much fortitude as I could bear. When praise came I was,almost too afraid to trust the source. People change and pupils come and go…..they leave a mark on ones life…most of the time there is a sadness attached to it for I as a teacher can ‘see’ their future. I try to instill all the good things in all three genres that I teach……but out there it gets undone and I cannot save the student from her future or herself.
This weekend was very hard for us….my mother and I both have Bronchitis. I had a very high fever on Friday evening….and in the delirium the pupils of the past rushed in and out of thought like marathon runners….it was all very confusing. But they were only shadows of the past and the house remained quiet and still. Isolated as always.